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Mental exam ordered for Hilo stabbing suspect

June 13, 2014 - 9:21am

A judge delayed arraignment for a 28-year-old man accused of stabbing three people and wounding two critically last month in Hilo.

Varaha Mims was scheduled for arraignment and plea before 3rd Circuit Judge Glenn Hara. Mims was indicted by a Hilo grand jury June 4 on charges of attempted first-degree murder, three counts of attempted second-degree murder, first-degree burglary, marijuana possession and fourth-degree property damage. He’s accused of an early-morning stabbing May 23 that critically injured 28-year-old Skylar Nelson of Pahoa and Mims’ former landlord, 49-year-old Raghunatha John Giuffre of Wainaku. Both are reportedly recovering. Also injured was Nelson’s girlfriend, 27-year-old Sarah Steinbrecher of Hilo, who was treated for her wounds and released.

The attempted first-degree murder charge carries a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole upon conviction. Conviction for attempted second-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life with the possibility of parole.

District Judge Barbara Takase ordered a mental examination of Mims to determine his fitness for trial, but not penal responsibility, which means his state of mind at the time of the alleged offenses. A hearing on the examination’s findings is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. July 8.

Deputy Prosecutor Joe Lee and Mims’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender Michael Ebesugawa, disagreed on how the court should proceed.

“With the indictment, I don’t know what’s going to be the disposition of this pending motion on Judge Takase’s ruling,” Ebesugawa said. “Your Honor, we have only asked for fitness in district court and that’s what we’re asking for here.” He asked the judge to continue arraignment until after the July 8 hearing date.

Lee objected, but “not to the (mental examination) itself.”

“Right now, they’re only asking for (a ruling on) fitness. That is not what the … statute requires,” he told the judge. “The … statute requires two parts, fitness and then penal responsibility. It is the state’s position that both must be done. Not one or the other, but both. These are the same arguments we raised before Judge Takase.”

“On the issue of responsibility, is there any basis on which the court can order that if the defense does not raise the issue?” Hara asked.

“Your Honor, I believe there will be one raised,” Lee replied. “The state’s position is that the statute requires that both be done at the same time. We would submit that Judge Takase no longer has jurisdiction, your Honor, that the grand jury indictment transfers the case up to the Circuit Court before your Honor, therefore, Judge Takase has no standing to do anything in this matter.”

Ebesugawa told the judge if the court orders examination of Mims for both fitness and responsibility, then defense will withdraw its request for a mental examination.

Hara scheduled a hearing for 1 p.m. June 24 to consider arguments from both sides and to hear Mims’ plea.

Email John Burnett at